low sugar mincemeat

20161210_191103I know I’ve written about mincemeat before, but we’ve been on a bit of a dietary adventure over the past six months, eating a low carb/high fat diet to alleviate Chris’s Type 2 diabetes – and it’s worked!  So we’ve been thinking about adapting many of our favourite recipes to cut down on the carbohydrates.  This version of mincemeat contains only 50g of  added “half and half” sucrose/stevia.  It is not low-calorie, as the dried fruits contain high levels of fructose, but this is absorbed more slowly than other sugars and so is better for diabetics. In any case there’s only a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat in a mince pie anyway.  Oh, and it’s also suitable for vegans as it contains no animal products.

  • 200g vegetable suet
  • 300g cooking apple, peeled and grated
  • 50g whole almonds, chopped into slivers
  • 200g dried apricots, chopped small
  • 140 g raisins
  • 300g sultanas
  • 225g currants
  • 150g dates
  • 150g prunes
  • 50g brown sugar with stevia (by Tate & Lyle)
  • 4 teaspoons mixed spice
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • Zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • Zest and juice of 2 large clementines
  • 6 tablespoons brandy

Put the dates and prunes into a food processor and blitz to a paste. Put in a big ovenproof bowl with all the other ingredients except the brandy, and mix it all together thoroughly. Leave it overnight, covered in a cloth.  In the morning, take off the cloth, stir the mixture well and cover it loosely with a piece of foil. Place the bowl in a very low oven (gas mark 1/4, 110 degrees C) for 3 hours, then take it out of the oven. As it cools, give the mixture a stir occasionally. When it’s completely cooled down, stir in the brandy (be generous – and maybe add a splash of Pedro Ximenez sherry as well; after all, it is Christmas…) and mix well, then spoon into sterilised jars and seal with acid-proof lids and wax discs, or parfait jars with rubber seals.

This makes just under 3kg of mincemeat (about 6 normal sized jamjars).



Christmas puddings 2015

IMG_20151122_180954[1]Rather than make one big pud, this year we decided to make loads of little ones.  This is because we found some small plastic pudding basins in our favourite cook shop,  Cooksmill on Regent Road in Salford.  I could quite happily spend an hour just mooching about in there, fantasising about what I could do with an industrial-size food processor and mixing bowls the size of hot tubs.

This mixture made about 10 small quarter-pint puddings, or you could use one enormous 3 pint bowl (that’s just over 1.5 litres in new money).  The quantities below were made up of the dried fruits we had in the cupboard, but as long as you get 450g in total you could put in whatever you like.  The prunes are important though – they add a nice squidgy texture.  As with Christmas cakes, bear in mind that you need to assemble your ingredients well in advance of making this, as the longer you leave the dried fruits soaking the better it will be. Pedro Ximenez sherry tastes like liquid Christmas pudding anyway, so it’s a perfect thing for soaking Christmas pudding fruit.  The other thing to remember is that the first time you steam your puddings they will need about 3 hours if they’re all in small bowls, or up to 5 hours if it’s one big one, so do it on a day when you don’t need to stray much from the house.

  • 150g currants
  • 125g dried morello cherries
  • 75g prunes
  • 50g dried cranberries
  • 50g dried figs (figgy pudding,innit…)
  • 175ml Pedro Ximenez sherry, or brandy, or a mixture of the two
  • 100g plain flour
  • 125g breadcrumbs
  • 150g vegetarian suet
  • 150g dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 medium cooking apple, peeled and grated
  • 30ml honey (2 tablespoons)
  • butter for greasing the bowls

Cut up the dried figs and prunes into small pieces (scissors are best for this), and put them in a bowl with the other dried fruits.  Pour over the sherry/brandy, mix it about a bit and then cover the bowl in clingfilm.  You can leave the fruit to soak up the alcohol for anything up to a week.

When you’re ready to start making the pudding, set up your steamer or double boiler, or just a big pan of water with a trivet in the bottom would do.  Get the water simmering.  Then grease your bowl or bowls with a bit of butter, not forgetting the lids if your bowls come with them. If they don’t have a lid, you can improvise with a piece of greased baking paper, a double thickness of foil, and string to tie it onto the top of the bowl.

Use a big mixing bowl and mix together all the ingredients except the dried fruits – it’s easiest to start with the dry ingredients, then add the eggs, mix well, then add the lemon zest, apple, and honey last.  Then add the dried fruit mixture and all the sherry/brandy juices, and mix well.  At this point it’s traditional to ask every member of the family to stir the pudding and make a wish, especially if you’re making the pudding on Stir-up Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent. Divide the mixture between the individual pudding bowls or just plonk it in t.he one big bowl if that’s what you’re using.  Press down the mixture so that there are no air gaps, and put on the lid.  Place the pudding bowls in the steamer/double boiler/big pan and allow them to steam for a couple of hours for the small puds, or up to 5 hours for one big one.  Check the water level every hour or so to make sure it doesn’t boil dry.  Leave the puddings to cool after the appropriate cooking time, then take them out of the pan, dry off the outside of the bowls and put them somewhere cool and dark until you need them.

On Christmas day you can either set them to steam again for a couple of hours, or stick them in the microwave for 5 minutes until they’re piping hot (although I wouldn’t recommend using the microwave method for a single big pudding).   Turn them out of their bowls onto a plate, pour over a bit of heated brandy and set it alight
(although vodka seems to light better than brandy, it doesn’t add anything to the taste). Traditionally served with a sprig of holly for decoration, and brandy sauce.


Christmas cake 2015

IMG_20151122_181718[1]There are hundreds of different recipes out there, but having tried Nigella’s last year I think this is just about the easiest both in terms of shopping for ingredients and in baking it.  This is my take on it. Quantities below are for one small 18cm round or 15cm square cake.  If you double up the mixture this will make a 23cm round or 20cm square cake but will take much longer to cook.  Soak the fruit in any type of aromatic spirit (I used a mixture of Scotch and brandy as that’s what I had available!), or use bourbon if you want to go the full Domestic Goddess route. Make sure your butter and eggs are at room temperature before you start mixing – take them out of the fridge the night before. Nigella suggests adding a teaspoon of almond extract but I don’t think it’s necessary, especially if the cake is going to be covered in marzipan before icing. This is quite an easy cake to put together, but you do need to bear in mind that you need to start preparing the ingredients a good 24 hours before you’re ready to bake it.

  • 350g raisins
  • 150g currants
  • 50g glace cherries, cut in half
  • 75g chopped walnuts
  • 200ml whisky, brandy or bourbon
  • 150g butter
  • 90g dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon black treacle
  • 150g plain flour
  • 75g ground almonds
  • half teaspoon cinnamon
  • quarter teaspoon ground cloves
  • quarter teaspoon ground ginger

Put the raisins, currants and cherries in a small saucepan and pour over the spirit of your choice.  Bring the mixture to the boil then remoove it from the heat, give it a good stir, then cover it and leave it overnight.

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees C or gas mark 2.  Line your cake tin with a double thickness of greaseproof or baking paper.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and cream them together until the sugar granules have disappeared. Then mix in the grated lemon zest. Now add an egg and beat it in well.  Add a spoonful of flour, mix that, then add another egg and beat well.  Now add in the black treacle.  A good tip to get treacle out of the tin is to heat up the spoon over a gas flame fora few seconds, or dunk it in a cup of boiling water, before putting your spoon in the tin.  The heat will help the treacle slide off the spoon more easily.

Mix the flour, spices and ground almonds together in a separate bowl (you really don’t need to sieve flour these days, unless you’re still buying it from a grocer’s shop where they scoop out your flour from a big sack on the floor….).  Add a big spoonful of flour mix followed by a big spoonful of the soaked dried fruit and mix well. Continue like this until all the flour and all the fruit is incorporated.  Then add the chopped walnuts and give the mixture one last stir to distribute the nuts evenly through it.

Put the mixture into your cake tin.  A silicone spatula is a great tool for getting the last scrapings out of the mixing bowl.  Level off the  mixture in the tin as much as you can, then put it in the oven. A small 18cm round cake will take anything between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours to cook, depending on your oven.  A larger 23cm round cake will take about 3 hours, give or take 20 minutes either side. The easiest way to test if your cake is done is to stick a thin metal skewer right into the middle, leave it there for a few seconds, then pull it out. If the skewer has some sticky cake mixture on it, the cake’s not done yet.  If it comes out and looks clean, the cake is baked all the way through.  Take it out of the oven and brush the top with a tablespoonful of brandy or whisky, turn it out of the tin and wrap it up in a double layer of foil (you can keep the baking paper on it at this point).  The next day, take off all the baking paper and rewrap it in fresh baking paper, then put it in an airtight container.

At this point, your cake is ready for feeding.  Every so often,  unrwap your cake,  prod it all over with a skewer and brush over a couple of tablespoons of whisky or brandy, then wrap it up again .

A small cake will need one pack of marzipan to cover it – anything bigger may require two. You should put the marzipan on the cake a few days before you want to put the icing on.  Use a tablespoon of apricot jam, heated up and sieved, to brush over the cake before you put the rolled out marzipan on – it will help to stick the marzipan onto the cake.  Icing?  I cheat and use ready-rolled fondant!



No-peel mincemeat

this is what it looks like before you leave it to stand overnight.

this is what it looks like before you leave it to stand overnight.

I can’t stand mixed peel in anything. There are far nicer ways of getting a sharp hit of citrus in food without those chewy, hard, waxy bits of “bacon rind”. Here’s our take on the sainted Delia’s mincemeat recipe, which is a lovely balance of sweet, sharp and fruity, without the mixed peel.

  • 450g Bramley apples, peeled and grated (easiest way is to peel them then use a box grater on the side with the largest holes – no need to core them, just stop grating when you reach the cores).  One big Bramley weighs about 250g.
  • 200g shredded vegetable suet
  • 350g raisins
  • 225g sultanas
  • 225g currants
  • 150g soft apricots, chopped
  • 100g dried cranberries
  • 350g soft dark brown sugar
  • grated zest and juice of 2 oranges
  • grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • 50g slivered almonds
  • 4 teaspoons mixed spice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • half teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 6 tablespoons brandy

This makes just under 3kg of mincemeat (about 6 normal sized jamjars).  Mix all of the ingredients together except for the brandy in a large ovenproof  bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave it overnight.

Take off the cloth, stir the mixture well and cover it loosely with a piece of foil. Place the bowl in a very low oven (gas mark 1/4, 110 degrees C) for 3 hours, then take it out of the oven. As it cools, give the mixture a stir occasionally. When it’s completely cooled down, stir in the brandy and put into sterilised jars. Seal them well (wax discs and acid-proof lids, or parfait jars with rubber seals).

This keeps for a really long time in a dark, cool place.  When you open it to use, if it’s looking a bit solid just mix in a bit more brandy.

This recipe is vegan if you use vegetarian suet. It makes absolutely no difference to the flavour whether you use ordinary suet or vegetarian suet as far as I can tell.

Irish cream liqueur

  • 400g tin of condensed milk
  • 250ml long life UHT single cream (or 200ml full fat UHT milk and 50g sterilised cream, whisked together)
  • 250ml Irish whiskey
  • 1 heaped teaspoon instant coffee powder or granules
  • 2 tablespoons dark chocolate syrup
  • 2 teaspoons caramel syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put all the ingredients in a blender and whizz until mixed. Don’t whizz too much or you’ll end up with alcoholic whipped cream. Put in sterilised bottles and drink within a week – keep in the fridge.

Long life or UHT single cream is becoming increasingly difficult to find – Spar shops or Makro are two places that regularly stock it. Don’t be tempted to use cream substitutes like Elmlea, you will regret it. You could use fresh cream but it will only last a couple of days before going off. This year (2016) we tried it with 200ml full fat UHT milk and 50g of Carnation sterilised cream (the stuff in tins that my Nana Margot used to put on tinned peaches as a treat).  It worked OK, I think, but it was quite difficult to get the cream to disperse in the milk.  Whisking the cream and  milk together before putting anything else in seems to be the best method.

The instant coffee powder or granules should be good quality, strong-tasting stuff – espresso type. We’ve not tried this with the new whole bean instant powders like Millicano. I suspect they might be a bit gritty.

Dark chocolate syrup – the best you can find, with a high cocoa content. If not, you can make your own chocolate syrup by heating a spoonful of golden syrup and mixing a spoonful of cocoa into it, but this won’t stay in suspension as well as the ready-made chocolate syrup and you might have to shake your bottles of liqueur before serving to avoid a chocolatey sediment.

Caramel syrup – if you fancy experimenting you could use maple syrup, or a flavoured syrup for coffee such as hazelnut or gingerbread. Monin syrups are perhaps the best known; they seem to be in all the high street coffee chains like Costa. And I used to work for Monin when I was a student many moons ago, so I do feel an odd sense of loyalty to them!

Chestnut stuffing

It ain’t Christmas unless this is on the table.  If I could just think of a way to fashion it into the shape of a turkey we wouldn’t have to serve anything else.

  • 50g butter
  • 700g cooked and peeled chestnuts
  • 120g good quality pork sausagemeat
  • 120g gammon, cut into small chunks
  • 1 tablespoon of brandy (but I reckon you should put in a LOT more than this)
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour
  • 500mls hot stock – chicken or vegetable
  • Ground black pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a big frying pan and sauté the sausagemeat and the gammon, breaking up the sausagemeat into small chunks.  Remove from the pan, leaving all the buttery juices behind.  Add the chestnuts and cook them over a medium heat until they catch a bit at the edges.  Break them up a bit with a spoon so some are whole and some are in pieces.  Add more butter if necessary. Remove the chestnuts from the pan and keep them on one side with the cooked sausagemeat and gammon.  Add the flour to the butter in the pan and make a roux, adding more butter if necessary.  Cook for a couple of minutes, then pour in the brandy, then the hot chicken stock, and cook until the sauce is quite thick.  Add the chestnuts, sausage and gammon back into the pan and stir until everything is combined. Season with black pepper (it won’t need much salt, if any, because of the gammon and sausage).  Put into an ovenproof dish and bake in the oven with the roast, for about half an hour.

(This recipe was taken from a Woolworths cookery book bought in the 1960s by Auntie Christine, and kidnapped by my mum Ann, never to be returned!)


OK, this is a straight steal from the Channel 4 programme Superscrimpers, via our neighbour Teresa who made her own version of it. It’s not terribly authentic, but it tastedlemon so good I was inspired to try it for myself. If it works it’ll be an excellent addition to our repertoire of home-made Christmas drinks.

Take the zest off 8 lemons (make sure you only take off the yellow zest, and as little of the white pith as you can manage). A very sharp knife or a speed peeler would be best to do this, or you could use a grater.  Put the zest in a large bowl with the squeezed juice of the 8 lemons, and pour over a 70cl bottle of cheap vodka.  Don’t throw the bottle away!  Add 500 grams of granulated sugar to 500ml of just boiled water and stir until dissolved, then add to the lemon/vodka mix. Cover the bowl and leave to steep for 5 days.  This is the stage the recipe has reached at the moment… After 5 days, strain the liquid. You could use a paper coffee filter or a piece of muslin in a sieve or colander. Pour the strained liquid into clean bottles (this is why you should keep the empty vodka bottle!).